#ChooseToChallenge — Why I’m calling out other women this International Women’s Day
The week of International Women’s Day is one of my favourite times of the year, as it’s always a day I can just be my authentic self, we can talk about anything and everything, completely put the world to rights and empower each other. This year however, it was a little bit different — with being completely virtual, some of the reporting around the Meghan Markle interview, the report around Safe Spaces by UN Women UK, and of course, the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard. It got me thinking about what I wanted to #ChooseToChallenge in the workplace…and so, as contentious as this is, I’m going to challenge other women.
I know there are so many girl-bosses out there who are constantly working to bolster and support the women around them and I am so lucky to have had some incredible, supportive managers and mentors. That said, the intersectionality of ageism and sexism from women to other women is causing young women to lose faith.
Just to caveat before I start, I’m fortunate that the industry I work in has a high percentage of women in (at least to a certain level) and my company has worked really hard to embed DEI across all areas. That said, personally, and within my network, there are tons of examples which highlight issues with more experienced women not supporting more junior women. Like being asked when I reached 30 if I was thinking about having a baby, assuming of course that all women want children and that you must be thinking about it once you reach the big 3–0…, or being told that ‘family life will come first once you’re a married woman’ when I got engaged…because clearly being a wife suddenly changes everyone’s priorities. I’ve even been told that — even though my salary is below the band for my grade, it’s fine because, “It’s a really good wage for a woman your age”. *Sigh* I could go on…but I don’t want to bore you.
I am an obsessive feminist — I am legit wearing a ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-Damental Rights’ t-shirt as I write this, and so any sexism bothers me, but more recently I’m getting fed up with the sexism from within my own gender! I feel I’m often called out for my age by older women than any of my male counterparts. I’m always referred to as ‘young’ or a ‘young girl’ (I got ID’d for wine last week, so maybe I should take it as a compliment!) Even though I’m in my 30’s, or told I’m doing well because some of my team members are older than me. It’s funny, I’ve never heard men getting comments like that… I’ve also heard a few women say that in order to succeed we need to be more like men. Someone I worked with once said that she wouldn’t bother empowering women because it was more competition for her, and companies only hire women to hit their targets.
I guess the big thing that bothers me is that, surely in 2021, shouldn’t women be empowering women? Shouldn’t we be changing that mindset? I constantly see women working above and beyond, doing things outside of their remit and working crazy hours to get on and progress. I have friends who have pushed themselves to the max with or without the support of their manager, and while men around them get promoted and certainly get big pay rises, it’s almost like you can’t have two women at the top. Shouldn’t the older generation of females be supportive of the younger ones? They’ve paved the way for us to succeed, so why should they be putting us down now? So whilst sexism absolutely certainly still exists, as ‘millennial’ women, we also need to fight ageism within our own gender in order to succeed!
I have been attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women as a UN Women UK delegate, and the Secretary General, when he talked about how, in some countries, women are coming out of higher education at a higher rate than men. He talked about how it’s not an issue with the skills level of women, it’s not about needing more training for women, but training those in power on how to build inclusive institutions. We need to change the mindset that countries hiring women is tokenism, and that there can only be a limited number of women at the top.
We know how much we have to fight to be equal to men. In 2019, the gender pay gap was 17.3% in the UK, which means that on average women were paid approximately 83p for every £1 men were paid. There is still a long way to go. In fact, it’s likely to take 100 years (yes that is One Hundred, not a typo) for us to achieve gender equality.
As women, we need to be supportive of other women. We need to take away any elements of jealousy or bitterness and shout about any achievements that our fellow females make. Do not allow the strong woman working her backside off to threaten you. She’s worked hard and we should all be happy for the strides she’s making. If you treat her like the office threat she’ll just go to someone that appreciates her. And to women who feel like this is their situation, don’t take it lying down! Speak openly about how you feel and be really clear on your achievements. They can’t keep you down for long.
“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored” Sheryl Sandberg
This blog contribution was made by Charlotte Allen
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